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Red Sox notebook

Time seems right for Varitek

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 5, 2011

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CLEVELAND — Jason Varitek is the only Red Sox position player yet to get into a game. With Josh Beckett on the mound tonight against the Indians and regular catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia struggling, that could change.

Beckett long has said he prefers to have Varitek catch him. Of his 143 starts for the Red Sox, 111 have come with Varitek behind the plate. Beckett has a 3.95 earned run average in those games.

With other Red Sox catchers, Beckett’s ERA is 5.53.

Saltalamacchia has caught Beckett once, last Sept. 18 against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Beckett took the loss but allowed only three earned runs over seven innings.

Manager Terry Francona said several times during spring training that he does not want to make Varitek a personal catcher for any starter. But tonight could be perfect timing for Varitek to make his 2011 debut.

A secondary issue is that Saltalamacchia is 0 for 10 with five strikeouts in three games. After a strong spring training, he has looked uncomfortable at bat, taking big swings at pitches anywhere close to the plate.

“He’s anxious right now swinging at a lot of first-pitch strikes. He needs to relax and do what he can do and not try to get it all back in one at-bat,’’ Francona said.

Dating to last season, Saltalamacchia is hitless in his last 18 at-bats.

Pickup teams That the Sox are 0-3 is a surprise. But it is hardly a precursor of doom.

The 1998 Yankees started 0-3, getting outscored, 21-6, by the Angels and Athletics. They went 114-45 the rest of the way and won the World Series.

It is also worth noting that the 2004 Sox had four losing streaks of at least three games, and the 2007 Sox had six of them. Both teams, of course, won the World Series.

Vacant look The Indians drew 41,721 for their Opening Day game against the White Sox at Progressive Field. But they drew only 9,853 on Saturday and 8,726 on Sunday. With chilly weather expected, even smaller crowds could greet the Sox. Sunday’s attendance was the lowest for a game at Progressive Field, which opened in 1994.

Moving about The Sox have assigned their top pitching prospect, righthander Anthony Ranaudo, to low Single A Greenville. He was a supplemental first-round pick last June and has yet to pitch in a professional game . . . Righthanded reliever Tony Pena Jr. will start the season in extended spring training . . . Through Sunday’s games, the Sox had the majors’ highest ERA at 9.75 and had allowed the most home runs (11).

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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